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Obama-Merkel Joint Press Conference

Aired May 2, 2014 - 12:30   ET


ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY: On the one hand, you have OSCE monitors for the elections, but also questions as regards to a change of the constitution, reform towards further deevolution or decentralization. All of the different country -- parts of the country obviously have to be at the same level as regards information on this, and the OSCD (ph) wants to do that. We want to give them the necessary political backing.

When a certain point in time is there, it's very difficult to predict. I can only say that for me, the elections on the 25th of May are crucial. And should there be further attempts at destabilization, this will be getting more and more difficult, but for now, I am working for elections to take place on that very date, and the heads of state and government are ready at any time, should that prove necessary to meet.

We've approved that over the past in other areas, for example, the euro crisis, and we will demonstrate this resolve yet again. I am firmly convinced that the United States of America and the European Union need to act in concert here, and they have done so in the past, and they're going to continue to do so.

BARCK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've said from the start that Russia has legitimate interests in terms of what happens next door in Ukraine. Obviously, there's a -- a deep and complicated history between Russia and Ukraine, and so of course Mr. Putin's views should be taken into account. What can't be taken into account is Mr. Putin's suggestion both through words and actions that he has the right to violate the sovereignty of another country, to violate its territorial integrity, to dictate the economic policies or foreign policy of a sovereign country.

That's not acceptable. Our view from the start has been that the Ukrainians should be able to make their own decisions. And I'm very confident that if Ukrainians are allowed to make their own decisions, then they will choose to have a good relationship with Russia, as well as a good relationship with Europe. That they'll want to trade with Russia and they'll want to trade with Europe.

But what they cannot accept, understandably, is the notion that they are simply a -- an appendage, an extension of Russia, and that the Kremlin has veto power over decisions made by a duly elected government in Kiev. So, if in fact Mr. Putin's goal is to allow Ukrainians to make their own decisions, then he is free to offer up his opinions about what he would like the relationship to be between Ukraine and Russia, and I suspect that there will be a whole lot of Ukrainian leaders who will take those views into consideration.

But it can't be done at the barrel of a gun. It can't be done by sending masked gunman to occupy buildings or to intimidate journalists. And one of the biggest concerns that we've seen is the Russian propaganda that has been blasted out non-stop, suggesting somehow that the Ukrainian government is responsible for the problems in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian government has shown remarkable restraint throughout this process.

The notion that this is some spontaneous uprising in eastern Ukraine is belied by all the evidence of well-organized, trained, armed militias with the capacity to shoot down helicopters. Generally, local protesters don't possess that capacity of surface-to air-missiles or whatever weapons were used to shoot down helicopters, tragically.

We have seen the attempts of OSCE monitors who were approved, not just by Europe or the United States, but also by Russia, being detained. And somehow Russia is suggesting that Kiev is responsible for that.

We have heard Mr. Putin say, well, Kiev has to do a better job of reaching out to Eastern Europe -- or Eastern Ukraine. You have seen attempts by Kiev in a very serious way to propose decentralization of power and to provide for local elections and for them to offer amnesty for those who have already taken over these buildings.

None of that has been acknowledged by Mr. Putin or the various Russian mouthpieces that are out there.

You have also seen suggestions or implications that somehow Americans are responsible for meddling inside Ukraine. I have to say that our only interest is for Ukraine to be able to make its own decisions. And the last thing we want is disorder and chaos in the center of Europe.

So, you know, for the German audience, who perhaps is tuning into Russian TV, you know, I would just advise to stay focused on the facts and what has happened on the ground.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Putin was still denying that the Russian military was even involved in Crimea. Then a few weeks later, he acknowledged, yes, I guess that was our guys.

And so there just has not been the kind of honesty and credibility about the situation there and a willingness to engage seriously in resolving these diplomatic issues. And our hope is that in fact Mr. Putin recognizes there is a way for him to have good relations with Ukraine and good relations with Europe, good relations with the United States. But it cannot be done through the kinds of intimidation and coercion that we are seeing taking place right now in Eastern Europe.

Tongi (ph)? QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

And earlier this week an inmate died in Oklahoma in what critics have called an inhumane manner because of a seemingly botched execution. Human right groups put the United States in the dubious company of China, Iran and Saudi Arabia when it comes to the prevalence of executions.

Some urban (ph) countries have expressed their concerns as well.

And what are your thoughts on this? And does this raise more questions about U.S. Justice and global (ph) reputation?

And to Chancellor Merkel, after Edward Snowden's revelations on your surveillance of your own cell phone, you said that friends shouldn't spy on friends.

Are you satisfied that the steps taken by the U.S. on NSA surveillance are now consistent with a healthy alliance? Has the personal trust been rebuilt?

And I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit on this no-spy agreement that apparently couldn't be reached. Thank you.

OBAMA: What happened in Oklahoma is deeply troubling. The individual who was subject to the death penalty had committed heinous crimes, terrible crimes. And I've said in the past that there are certain circumstances in which a crime is so terrible that the application of the death penalty may be appropriate. Mass killings. The killings of children.

But I've also said that in the application of the death penalty in this country, we have seen significant problems. Racial bias. Uneven application of the death penalty. Situations in which there were individuals on death row who later on were discovered to have been innocent because of exculpatory evidence.

And all these I think do raise significant questions about how the death penalty is being applied. And this situation in Oklahoma I think just highlights some of the -- the significant problems there.

So I'll be discussing with Eric Holder and others, you know, to get me an analysis of what steps have been taken, not just in this particular instance, but more broadly in this area.

I think we do have to, as a society, ask ourselves some difficult and profound questions around these issues. If you don't mind I'm gonna also go ahead and maybe say something about NSA just because I know it's of great interest in the German press as well.

Germany is one of our closest allies and our closest friends. And that's true across the spectrum of issues, security, intelligence, economic, diplomatic.

And Angela Merkel is one of my closest friends on the world stage, and somebody who -- whose partnership I deeply value.

And so, it has pained me to see the degree to which the Snowden disclosures have created strains in the relationship. But more broadly, I've also been convinced for a very long time that it is important for our legal structures and our policy structures to catch up with rapidly advancing technologies, and as a consequence to a series of, you know, steps, what we've tried to do is reform what we do and have taken these issues very seriously.

Domestically, we've tried to provide additional assurances to the American people that their privacy is protected. But what I've also done is taken the unprecedented step of ordering our intelligence communities to take the privacy interests of non-U.S. persons into account in everything that they do. Something that's not been done before, and most other countries in the world do not do.

What I've said is that the privacy interests of non-U.S. citizens are deeply relevant and have to be taken into account. And we have to have policies and procedures to protect them, not just U.S. persons. And we are in the process of implementing a whole series of those steps.

We have shared with the Germans the things that we are doing. I will repeat what I've said before, that ordinary Germans are not subject to continual surveillance, are not subject to a whole range of bulk data gathering. I know that the perceptions I think among the public, sometimes, are that you know, the United States has capacities similar to what you see on movies and in television.

The truth of the matter is that our focus is principally and primarily on how do we make sure that terrorists, those who want to proliferate weapons, transnational criminals, are not able to engage in the activities that they're engaging in. And in that, we can only be successful for partnering with friends like Germany. We won't succeed if we're doing that on our own.

So what I've pledged to Chancellor Merkel has been in addition to the reforms that we've already taken. In addition to saying that we are going to apply privacy standards to how we deal with non-U.S. persons, as well as U.S. persons, in addition to the work that we're doing to constrain the potential use of bulk data.

We are committed to a U.S.-German cyber-dialog to close further the gaps that may exist in terms of how we operate, how you -- German intelligence operates, to make sure that there's transparency and clarity about what we're doing and what our goals and our intentions are. These are complicated issues, and you know, we're not perfectly aligned yet. But we share the same values and we share the same concerns.

And you know, this is something that is deeply important to me, and I'm absolutely committed that by the time I leave this office, we're going to have a stronger legal footing and international framework for how we are doing -- how we are doing business in the intelligence sphere.

I will say, though, that I don't think that there is an inevitable contradiction between our security and safety and our privacy. And the one thing that I've tried to share with Chancellor Merkel is that, you know, the United States historically has been concerned about privacy. It's embedded in our Constitution. And as the world's oldest continuous constitutional democracy, I think we know a little bit about trying to protect people's privacy.

And we have a technology that is moving rapidly and we have a very challenging world that we have to deal with, and we've got to adjust our legal frameworks. But she should not doubt and the German people should not doubt how seriously we take these issues and I believe that we're going to be able to get them resolved to the satisfaction not just of our two countries, but of people around the world.

MERKEL (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Under the present conditions, we have actual possibilities as regards differences of opinion to overcome those differences in the medium term and in the long term. One possibility is to enter into such a cyber-data (ph), which is very important because that gives us a forum to have somewhat longer discussions as to where we stand individually, what the technical possibilities, but also ramifications of technological advances are.

Secondly, there are two strands of negotiations with the European Union. On the one hand, the safe harbor agreement, and then the data protection and privacy protection accord. And in the course of the negotiations, it will come out very clearly what differences of opinion there are; what different perspectives there are.

And I think it's of prime importance for us to bring these negotiations forward, the process, but also bring it to a successful conclusion.

And something else comes into play. I heard this this morning when I had a breakfast meeting with people who are very closely in contact with the parliament. They suggested to me that our parliaments, too, ought to have closer contact on this. And that's very important, not only for the governments to talk about these things, but also for the broader public. And these could be three possibilities as to how to address this further, and also understand each other's motivations and arguments better.

(inaudible), please.

QUESTION: (inaudible) possible to agree on a no-spy agreement, which was, as we understood, proposed by the U.S. government last summit. What kind of assurances could you give Chancellor Merkel with regard not only to ordinary German citizens, but to government members, some of them sitting here, that they are not under U.S. surveillance anymore?

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): And Chancellor, the question addressed to you. When the French president was here a few weeks ago, after his talk with President Obama, he said that trust, as regards the NSA discussion, has been rebuilt. Can your say the same thing?

OBAMA: It's not quite accurate to say that the U.S. government offered a no-spy agreement and then withdrew it. I think that what is accurate to say is that we do not have a blanket no-spy agreement with any country, with any of our closest partners.

What we do have are a series of partnerships and procedures and processes that are built up between the various intelligence agencies. And what we are doing with the Germans, as we're doing with the French, as we do with the British or the Canadians or anybody, is to work through what exactly the rules are governing the relationship between each country. And make sure that there are no misunderstandings. And I think that we have gone a long way in closing some of the gaps. But as Chancellor Merkel said, there's still some gaps that need to be worked through.

But you know, I think what we can be confident about is that the basic approach that we take with Germany is similar to the approach that we take with all our allies and all our friends. And that during the course of the last several years as technology advanced, I think there was a danger in which traditional expectations tipped over because of new technologies. And what we have tried to do is make sure that our policies now reflect increased capabilities and as a consequence the increased dangers of intrusions in privacy.

But you know, let me put it this way. Our interest in working effectively with the Germans and to making sure that German government as well as the German people feel confident about what we do is as important to us as any other country.

You know, Germany is at the top of our list, in terms of friends and allies and colleagues. And so we are not holding back from doing something with Germany that we somehow do with somebody else.

MERKEL (through translator): I think the whole debate situation (ph) has shown that the situation is such that we have a few difficulties yet to overcome. So this is why there's going to be this cyber dialogue between our two countries and this is also why there needs to be and will have to be more than just business as usual.

I mean, looking at the discussion not only and in German parliament but also among members of the German government, and also in the German public, we need to do that. But it's very good that we have taken these first steps and what's still dividing us, issues for example of proportionality and this -- and the like will be addressed. We will work on this. And that's going to be on the agenda for the next few weeks to come.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so there it is. They've wrapped up, what, an almost a 45-minute news conference or so, the president of the United States, the visiting chancellor from Germany, much of it on Ukraine, but they did get into other issues as well, including the very sensitive issue of U.S. spying in Germany and the so-called "no- spy" agreement that the Germans would like but clearly the president of the United States not ready to go that far, at least not yet.

Let's get some quick analysis, first of all, on the most important issue that came up, Ukraine, because there was news that emerged from this press conference. Jim Sciutto's here, Gloria Borger.

Jim, you heard some news there.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The administration there, setting a new standard for imposing broader sectoral sanctions in the president's terms, and that is impeding these May 25th elections in Ukraine.

Both the president and Merkel saying, if those are impeded, we will move forward, that they have agreement on it. The president even gave some details, saying that they could target the energy sector, or arms, finance, lines of credit. These are very expensive things.

Now then, the question becomes how broad are those sanctions? Administration officials have said in the days leading up to this that they could do sectoral sanctions with a scalpel, in their words, rather than an ax.

So you could see sectoral without a complete cutoff in trade.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And would they do them all at the same time?

They could see, example, for example, as they're seeing right now, quite frankly, that elections are being impeded before May 25th, so do they roll out some things earlier, leading up to that.

The president was quite clear today that he felt what was going on there, that he was outraged about the detainment of observers. He called it disgraceful. He called it inexcusable.

What struck me is that while he and Angela Merkel are talking about this, Wolf, over in the U.N. Security Council, the Russian ambassador to the U.N. was warning Russian powers to, quote, "stop toying with the destiny of the Ukrainian people."

So here we have leaders living in alternate universes.

BLITZER: Let's go to our White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski. She's in the Rose Garden right now.

Michelle, you were there. You saw them up close. They both went out of their way to try to stress that they were both on the same page as far as Ukraine and Russia's concerned.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Absolutely, and that is what we expected here, that even though there have been some differences in alignment on each step in the sanctions, they've always tried to emphasize that the U.S. needs to work closely in concert with Europe basically for the sanctions to work.

The president stressed while he was traveling in Asia that if the U.S. imposes sanctions, say, on arms dealing in Russia, but then Europe backfills those orders because they haven't imposed the same, it's really not going to do anything. So that's some of what we heard today. I thought it was remarkable, though, that now, all of a sudden, really for the first time, we're hearing about these sectoral sanctions before a full-on Russian invasion, because every time that question has been asked over the past many, many weeks, they've said, no, what we're seeing is not an invasion, really; this is not a military investigation in the traditional sense, and that's the benchmark for imposing these broader sanctions.

Well, now we're hearing it's going to be something different than that. They kind of framed it in sort of -- they said sanctions in a sectoral sense, so they might not be as sweeping as something we would see if Russia invaded Ukraine, but it's going to be something along those lines.

President Obama sort of parsed it out, saying, look, it's not realistic to say we're going to ban oil and gas exports from Russia to Europe, ban anyone taking those. That's just not going to work under the current conditions and looking at the global economy.

And Angela Merkel said, you know, it's not what we want to do. We don't want to impose such sweeping sanctions. But if we have to, then Germany and the E.U. are ready and willing.

And I think that's something many people had a question about, that if the U.S. wanted to take that step, would the E.U. go along with it, Wolf?

BLITZER: Stand by, Michelle, because Matthew Chance is in Moscow. He was watching and listening.

What's the likely reaction going to be from the Russians, Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're going to be watching this very closely, of course, for any differences between Washington and that key European leader, Angela Merkel, and I think there wasn't probably as much unity between the two leaders as they were portraying there publicly.

They did a good job of saying that they're on the same page when it comes to sanctions and when comes to military action that's been taken in eastern Ukraine, but, in fact, the emphasis of the European sanctions, as we've seen, has been different to the emphasis of the American sanctions.

The U.S. sanctions have targeted key areas of Vladimir Putin's, the president's, inner circle, key areas of the Russian economy. The European sanctions have almost entirely been focused on the military elites, on the ground in Crimea and in Russia and the political elites who were engaged and have been and continue to be engaged in the separatism.

And so there's a key sort of difference between the emphasis of these two figures. And I didn't hear anything in this joint press conference that indicated that when they move, if they move to the next level of sanctions, that was necessarily going to change.

BLITZER: And very quickly, Matthew, is there any indication average Russians are beginning to feel the impact of these sanctions?

CHANCE: No, I don't think so. The targeted sanctions have been very much levied against the elites in this country. It's not something at this point that they've felt, although it's having an impact on the economy perhaps down the line.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance in Moscow.

We're going to continue our coverage of the breaking news, the president of the United States, the chancellor of Germany, making important statements on Ukraine, other issues.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Right now, hiring is up. The unemployment rate is down, drooping to its lowest level in more than five years.